10 | 22
2011

Not everyone is lucky in the Lucky Country

Categories: Corporate profit, Corruption, Education, Environment, Globalisation, Hypocrisy, Mining, Tertiary

by: Bakchos
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“Australia is different.  Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme). 

… It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.”

(Elomis, Don’t Occupy Sydney)

Sydney turned on one of its perfect spring days last weekend. Saturday woke to rain that looked to be set in for the day and before midday the long sleeved, high necked shirt I’d put on that morning had been discarded for a cotton shirt as the humidity rapidly rose. By Sunday the weather was glorious. I’ve little doubt that those who spent the night in Martin Place for the Occupy Sydney protest were glad to see the warmth of the sun after the early dawn’s chill, as they’d spent the night without shelter or mattresses.

Sydney was one of 951 cities to hold demonstrations against corporate greed. It was not particularly well attended when I visited in the morning and again later in the afternoon of Sunday, but the protestors were all welcoming and calm. As a concept that grew through the initiative of several individuals who, until the weekend apparently did not know each other, but were eager to pick up on the message of Occupy Wall Street, it quickly found a structure of its own. General Assembly meeting at 10 am and 6:30 pm to discuss issues that were voted on by all; people taking discussion groups open to all; talks arranged and advertised on a makeshift notice board that had been setup at a makeshift information table; a cooking team who were preparing food for all the protestors; a media team and email address. For something that began so “organically”, I was impressed.

I made a point of introducing myself to anyone I spoke to at the protest and providing one of the Blak and Black business cards. I talked to several people about their reasons for gathering at the protest. Ryan, unemployed for 3 years and unable to find work since the business he worked for collapsed, was disillusioned by his inability to find work despite Centrelink training and is now dealing with the consequence to his self-esteem that comes from being on the welfare line for so long.

James surprised me a little. An economics student, I would have expected him to perhaps be more interested in the other side of the equation. Barbara and Freya , two more mature Indigenous ladies with whom I spoke, expressed their belief that the protest was drawing attention to an issue that they believed in – pointing out the greed within our nation and the world. We spoke of how separating children from families destroys belonging and how damaging it is to families. I stood on the fringe of a couple of the groups and listened to people speaking about being clear about what the objective of their protest was so that others not part of the protest will hear and understand what truly is the danger and the underlying premise for the international day of action.

It was a mixed bag of people. Mark Goudkamp, one of the organizers, admitted in a television interview that the protest would most likely flag come Monday morning, as he and others would need to attend work. Ryan, being unemployed, had every intention of remaining on Monday, but conceded that if everyone else left then he may simply have to come back next weekend. The protest, along with others around the world, has continued despite the working week.

It’s a far cry from the protests in the United States or Europe. The economic impacts of the Global Financial Crisis have obviously hit much harder and left greater social and financial dissatisfaction; Australians have apparently been more fortunate than those in other countries. Yet, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the realities of the socio-economic crisis that is gripping this world will eventually come knocking at Australia’s door. A globalized economy with multi-national companies and competing national debts mean that dominoes is the name of the game. With China battling it’s own internal monetary issues that have the potential to impact on the international community[i] and warnings of an impending recession that experts predict will include Australia, there is reason for the pessimism. The Occupy Movement is that tolling bell of justice, warning us that the fates of our friends and neighbors both near and far will eventually be felt by us. No man is an island; no island is the world.

In essence I agree with the sentiments of the post by Elomis, but his statistics don’t sit well with me. The current unemployment rate for Australia as at September 2011 is 5.2%.[ii] Given that such a figure does not account for those supported by a spouse or those who have accepted part-time work when full time hours are not available, you can guarantee that there’s more than 1 in 20 people searching for a job. In an economically depressed area such as Sydney’s Fairfield the unemployment rate is estimated to be 10%.[iii]

As for a welfare system that supports people indefinitely, there are caveats. You must comply with requirements of the activity test;[iv] if not, your welfare is reduced or stopped for up to eight weeks. Failing to meet activity test requirements results in a welfare reduction until such time as there is so little it is actually impossible to survive. If you live in a rural area with only a few employers meeting the requirements of the activity test may simply be impossible. Ask the Indigenous people on the missions in rural areas; many are stuck, unable to find work, unable to move to a larger centre because they cannot afford the rent or bond for the dwelling, unable to leave family and the land to which they feel such a bond. They worry that if too many of them leave their traditional lands or the missions the Government will negate their right to it and absorb it into the Crown as has happened with Oombulgurri.[v]

Let’s not forget the universal subsidized healthcare. Yes, Australia does have a high standard of healthcare, but not really entirely comprehensive. A good number of service providers charge above the Medicare scheduled fee, leaving patients to foot the cost; waiting lists for elective surgery are months, if not years in duration (did you know that sudden complete loss of sight in one eye is not considered an emergency and you may have to wait months for treatment from the public purse, by which time, the damage may be irreversible?); MRI scans are limited to scanners that are ‘licenced’; dental care is all but ignored under the current healthcare system. The public healthcare system is overflowing with patients seeking to avoid the out of pocket expenses, our hospitals buckling under the weight of a system that no-one seems to know how to fix. Every healthcare provider can tell you what’s wrong in their sector; none can give you a comprehensive answer on how to resolve the ever increasing burdens of Medicare.

As for tertiary education, our parents, the ‘baby-boomers’, benefited from a system in which universities were subsidized so that no student left university with a debt. To quote one of those fortunate baby-boomers, it’s unfair that his generation who benefited in the post war era and have had long career stability are now pulling up the ladder on subsequent generations. Each and every student who studies a tertiary course must pay a Higher Education Contribution fee, which if not paid ‘upfront’ is deducted from your income along with the Medicare Levy, the Medicare Surcharge Levy (if applicable), the Queensland Flood Levy and the income tax.[vi] [vii] Now, if you undertake a course of study with a practical component such as in the paramedical professions, the providers of the practical placements for the students do not receive any of the HECS funding, although students are still charged a fee for the unit. So much for fairness and leaving a legacy for your children.

A final consequence of the affluence of our forbears is the increase in the minimum age at which a pension is available to Australians born after 1956, having been raised to sixty-seven.[viii] If you are eligible for a pension the maximum benefit a couple will receive is $609.60 per fortnight ($519.40 pension + $90.20 supplement). How much would your activities be curtailed if that was your  income each fortnight? If you have worked your life raising a couple of children on the average Australian wage (approx. $67880 p.a. pre tax, $52, 300 net)[ix] whilst one parent worked and the other focused on parenting, you are not going to have much left in the superannuation account come retirement age and that pension will be what you rely upon.

The last issue that needs to be addressed is that of the so-called dual speed economy that our nation is seeing as the bitter-sweet saviour our nation. The mining boom has kept this country alive, but manufacturing is dying. Bluescope Steel is laying off 1000 workers[x] and the automotive industry has largely dried up. Ross Gittins will tell you that our future is in mining and perhaps that’s the case, but the resources are finite and once they are dug out of the ground what’s left is essentially worthless, destroying the habitat of the fauna and flora. I’m not against mining per se; but I do think we need to think about stripping every last inch f this country for coal, iron, gold, coal seam gas or LNG just to make a buck. Sure, the unemployed could perhaps try to get training in the growing mining industry, but there’s only so many that this new industry can take on, not to mention the disruption to family units that would have to move long distances. In addition, if the land is owned by an Aboriginal Land Council, some miners will not even negotiate to pay royalties to the traditional owners.

I can see why people are disillusioned, I can see why people are protesting in the Occupy movements, even in Australia. The distribution of wealth in this country is far from equitable. It’s not as easy a just getting a job; if you are unskilled or the industry you work in has been in demise, retraining may not be enough to get you on your feet again. If you are over forty, employers are more likely to look to the younger candidates who they expect will accept a lower pay and will be less likely to move on to a new job quickly. If you have a criminal conviction that comes up even when you apply for a job as a shelf-stacker in Coles, you’re probably not going to get the job. And the interesting thing is, many of the people protesting DO have jobs, DO go to work on Monday morning or ARE perhaps studying at university, but return in the evening or on the weekend.

This is the tolling bell of discontent, of dissension, but yet again, Australia seems not to be listening. Will it be to its peril?

Will you sign the petition calling for a Royal Commission into the Australian Federal Police?

[i] Afraid of a bump. The Economist, October, 22, 2011

[ii] Labour Force, Australia, Sep 2011. Australian Bureau of Statistics, September, 2011. Accessed October 20, 2011.

[iii] Moore M, Saulwick J, The machines that are draining a city. Sydney Morning Herald, October 15, 2011.

[iv]Payments: Activity Test Requirements. Centrelink, Accessed October 22, 2011.

[vi] Going to Uni. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Accessed October 22, 2011.

[vii] Flood tax: what you will pay. News.com.au. Accessed October 22, 2011.

[viii] Payments: Age Pension Age. Centrelink, Accessed October 22, 2011.

[ix] Average Weekly Earnings. Australian Bureau of Statistics, May, 2011. Accessed October 20, 2011.

[x] Ross Gittins, Our future is mining, not making. August 24, 2011. Accessed October 22, 2011.

24 Comments

  1. Vest says:

    Despite of ones qualifications it should not be difficult to downgrade to a lower position provided ones age fitness and health fit in with the job. Pride should not be the obstacle. if your present qualifications have lost their merit you need to persue another path. I have done that several times and was never a burdon to the taxpayer.

    • Bakchos says:

      Point taken, though there are many people out there, some of whom I know personally who’ve experienced lengthy periods of unemployment through no fault of their own. As you rightly point out, age, health and educational attainment, or lack thereof, clearly limit employment options, particularly in a highly specialised economy. A point in question: a friend I grew up with from orphanage to school to later life, was delivering parcels for Australia Post at 85 cents per parcel and in the year in which the executives of Australia Post congratulated themselves on a job well done and gave themselves a pay rise, his effective remuneration fell to 60 cents per parcel. The maximum he has ever achieved starting work at 4 am and finishing at 8 pm was 168 parcels in one day. You do the math.

  2. No that’s right. I work ith the Mission there are 10,000 homeless people in Sydney alone. They certainly are not lucky. Stop the greed is all I’ll say.

  3. Sally is the number really that high. If so we are getting close to US standards. That is a statistic we should not be proud of. As Bakchos would say, viva La Revolucion!

  4. Shit Sal I personally know about 20 of those 10,000. They arn’t lucky, nor are the 9,980 or so. Where is the help for those people. Where is the justice? Australia lucky for some not so nlucky for the rest!

  5. How about some justice for the poor and disadvantaged.

  6. Does anyone know what happened on Sunday morning? How many were arrested and what were they charged with. What role did Clover Moore have to play in what happened Sunday? She may lose her seat over this. She has lost my vote.

  7. Estelle she is in court today at Central magistrates I think. The one behind Town Hall station. People are going to be her moral support. Tim has video of what happened (I think). It seems that the pigs punched her and she bit (literally) back. We’ll see what happens to-day.

  8. Not good. Seems that no govt. in Oz is willing to accept protest and they call it democracy. I’ld hate to see what they call dictatorship!!!

  9. Thanx Tamara Ann Wooden. Time to hit the streets with pipes and bats.

  10. Estelle you look so angelic in your profile pic. Pips and bats, that’s a bit rough. Shit talk about revolution!!!

  11. david balls and all or not at all is my motto.

  12. Hey Estelle Dunlop I’ld hate to be on the wrong side of you. Will the revolution die or will the actions of the police make it stronger? Lets see what happens over the next week or so!

  13. Hyp I think the revolution will die in the arse middle-oz r 2 comfortable to care. Revolution will only happen after economic disaster. l;ets hope then that Gillard remains as PM>

  14. Anne a great post. I think you make the point well. Estelle Dunlop a woman after my own heart (but only after Jen). viva La Revolucion! viva La Revolucion!

  15. Mahmud Ahsan via Facebook says:

    Anne a great post. Sadley if the protestors were not back last night it is probably all over. Lets hope not, for the sake of the 10,000 if no one else.

  16. 10,000 peple on the streets of Sydney living rough. Say no to greed. Say yes to justice.

  17. Estelle i would never have thought you were that radical.

  18. Estelle were you down at martin Place? I’ll keep you informed about the next move. We were pissed-off from UTS yesterday. The pigs behaves brutally, really brutally. Some were OK but most were cunts.

  19. Anne via Facebook says:

    As Phillipa says, the meeting had to move off UTS property rapidly yesterday due to the involvement of non-uni individuals, but reconvened in a public pub a couple of blocks away. I’ve also had a similar story recounted about what happened to the lass who is in court this morning form those who were present in Martin Place was broken up.

  20. Anne via Facebook says:

    Mahmud, you’re not the only suggesting that failure to return last night was a poor move. I’ve heard two others suggest the same thing, one of them the God himself!

  21. Mahmud Ahsan via Facebook says:

    Not that disgraceful god of wine you hang out with (All’ah be praised, for there is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet.

  22. Anne via Facebook says:

    Aye, that would be him, Mahmud!

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